Redistricting plan for state will go nowhere

St. Albans Messenger (VT) - Monday, June 13, 2011

Every decade the state must take a look at its census figures to determine how its legislative districts reflect the change in population. The state's Apportionment Board issued a draft report last week and despite the state's modest change in population, its proposed redistricting plan is a radical departure from what we have. 

The board voted 4-3 for a plan to create 138 single-seat districts and six two-seat districts. That's in contrast with the 66 single-seat districts we have now, with 42 districts being two-member districts. 

[The redistricting plan does not change the number of representatives - 150 - just the outline of the districts themselves. Each legislator is supposed to represent approximately 4,172 voters.] The simplest way to illustrate the proposal is to consider the Franklin-1 District which includes Fairfax and Georgia. When voters go to the polls in both towns they have two seats to fill. 

Currently the seats are held by Carolyn Branagan of Georgia and Gary Gilbert of Fairfax, but under the current arrangement, they could be filled by two residents of the same town, or not, and voters from both towns make that choice. Under the proposed plan, the districts would be broken up into two "single-town" districts. Georgia voters would vote for a Georgia representative. Fairfax would vote for a Fairfax representative. 

The plan was advanced as being the more "democratic" approach and simpler for voters to understand. Instead of voting for two representatives, and sorting between the candidates, voters in single member districts would be voting for one representative. 

What is simple, however, is what is known and change is the outsider that is to be resisted. And this will be resisted. 

But, more to the point, the Apportionment Board has the power to recommend only. It's the Legislature that has the final say. 

The three members of the Apportionment Board who voted in opposition were the Democrats - including Frank Cioffi of St. Albans. The Democrats have a super majority in the House and there is not a chance they will accept the board's recommendation. 

There will be changes, as there are in every required redistricting effort. But House Democrats are not about to accept a plan that turns the state's present map upside down, affecting almost every town in some way. 

The plan also attaches much more significance to simplicity than it deserves. It may, on paper, be simpler for the people in Georgia to pick a Georgia rep, or the people in Fairfax to pick a Fairfax rep, but voters in both have been doing this for years, and the confusion has been minimal, to say the least. 

There are examples whereby the plan would pit the incumbent of one district against the incumbent of another. This would be the case with House Speaker Shap Smith who, if the plan were accepted, would be pitted against fellow Democrat Mark Woodward. 

Like that's going to happen. 

A case can be made that the democratic process is best served by shaking things up, pitting incumbents against one another in an effort to change the cast of characters. The value of incumbency is something that needs to be challenged. 

But this is not the plan that will be used. The Democrats have rock-solid numbers in the Legislature. They will not vote for a plan that puts any of their members at risk. They will put their imprimatur on a plan that benefits them; that's what happens in all redistricting efforts. Those in power win.

by Emerson Lynn